how i got this baby

The Mom Who Gave Birth Minutes After Being Turned Away From the Hospital

Illustration: Palesa Monareng

Because no two paths to parenthood look the same, “How I Got This Baby” is a series that invites parents to share their stories.

When Syracuse native Sherice Lawrence was 22, she started having heart palpitations. A trip to urgent care revealed she was pregnant. The timing wasn’t ideal, but she and her boyfriend, Khiam, had already decided that they both wanted kids some day. Sherice looked forward to the traditional pregnancy milestones: a baby shower, taking maternity photos, and getting her nursery ready

But the months that followed were far from easy. Sherice’s heart palpitations continued and severe nausea took hold. Then, at four months pregnant, she received an eviction notice from her landlord. Soon after, she and Khiam put their relationship on pause. Her friend, Christine, also needed a place to stay, so Christine suggested that they both move in with Christine’s sister, Victoria, in Pennsylvania. It was a tight squeeze. Sherice shared a bedroom with Christine and her three kids, while Christine’s sister, Victoria, slept in the living room with her boyfriend and her young child. Eventually the two sisters got into a disagreement and Christine and her kids moved out. Victoria said Sherice could stay, since the argument didn’t involve her. But after a few weeks, Sherice decided to leave too. She and Victoria had bonded and become close, but Victoria’s boyfriend made Sherice uncomfortable. Plus she hadn’t established prenatal care in Pennsylvania; she wanted to be back in Syracuse with her doctor. 

Sherice squatted in her old apartment for about a month and then moved in with her mom. She and Victoria stayed close, FaceTiming often. And then tragedy struck: Victoria was murdered by her boyfriend in a domestic altercation. “Who knows what would have happened if I had stayed in that apartment?” Sherice says.  

But at her mother’s house, life was also bumpy. Sherice’s mother had schizophrenia, and because she wasn’t on medication, she didn’t take care of the house well and sometimes made hurtful comments. She and Sherice argued a lot. Still, Sherice did her best to focus on her future. At seven months pregnant, she got a job at a call center. And soon after, she and Khiam got back together. She wanted to work as much as she could before the baby came along. Sherice woke at 5 a.m., took a bus to work, and came home at 7 or 8 p.m. She tried to cram in all her doctor’s appointments during her lunch breaks, but was sometimes late returning for her afternoon shift, largely because she had to rely on medical transportation. Her boss noticed the tardiness, and the week before her maternity leave was supposed to start, he laid her off, citing “missed hours” as the cause. She filed for unemployment and started researching her legal rights. 

Looking back at her pregnancy, Sherice sums it up as a “crazy ride.” But the most shocking turn of events was still to come. Sherice was young and Black, and she knew those factors could negatively impact her treatment in the American health-care system. She had feared giving birth since she was a kid, aware that women of color are more likely to have complications or die in childbirth. She hired a doula so she’d have support during labor and someone to vocalize her concerns. 

Here, she shares her astounding and harrowing birth story. 

On feeling the initial twinges of labor

I started having pain during a Church service on Christmas Eve. It wasn’t Braxton Hicks contractions. I had experience with those, so I could tell the difference. I hung out and relaxed the rest of the day, gaming with my boyfriend, and going to Bible study, and then I had some Indian food. All the while, the weird pains would come and go. Eventually they were too hard to ignore and I couldn’t sleep. I called the doctor on-call overnight. They asked if this was my first child and then said that whatever I was feeling would be 30 times worse if I was in labor and that my contractions would be five minutes apart or less. But a little while later, it felt like the contractions were consistently three minutes apart. My due date was only a week away, so I knew this could be go time. At 2 a.m., I decided to go to the hospital. I called Khiam and told him to meet me there.

On her first trip to the hospital

As I was getting set up in a room in the triage area, the contractions started to slow down a bit. The nurses checked the baby’s movements and monitored my contractions; they were able to pick them up. But when they went to see if my cervix was dilated, they said it wasn’t at all. The doctor determined I was in false labor. They sent me home, recommending I take Tylenol and Benadryl and have a hot shower. They said the pain would go away.

But as soon as I got outside, the contractions started back-to-back again. The security guard who had wheeled me in saw me and asked why I was back so soon. “I guess it’s false labor,” I told him. He noticed I was in pain and let me sit in a wheelchair until my Uber arrived. The whole ride back, the contractions continued. I called Khiam and told him what happened and asked him if he could come over to my mother’s house. “I’m nervous. My contractions are still really bad. I just need support,” I said. He stayed with me until about 8 a.m. Christmas Day. By then, I had fallen asleep and the contractions had eased a little, so he felt comfortable leaving to go open gifts with his family.

On camping out in bed on Christmas Day

I slept as much as I could the rest of the day. I thought I might be able to sleep off the pain, but it was so intense that I had to cancel my Christmas plan to spend the day with my best friend at her house. I was severely stressed — worried that this false labor wasn’t going away and angry that it had ruined my Christmas. My mom was confused as to why I was back home and told me to go back to the hospital. She also tried to get me to eat, but I couldn’t. I just stayed in bed all day.

On seeing blood

At around 7 p.m. I went to the bathroom and saw blood. My heart was racing, and I was thinking, My baby is arriving. This is real labor. I have to be dilating now. I immediately called Khiam and told him to come over. Then I called my doctor, who said, “It’s normal for bleeding to happen, as long as it’s not too much. Just wait around two hours or whenever you see your contractions are two minutes apart.” So I was like, Okay, this time I’m prepared.

Khiam arrived and started timing my contractions and they were five minutes apart. I started preparing to go to the hospital, because I just knew the baby was coming soon. So as I breathed through the contractions, I packed a bag and did some last-minute cleaning. We were both so excited and nervous.

On traveling to the hospital a second time

My contractions reached two minutes apart close to 10 p.m. The pain was progressively getting worse, so I thought it might be better to go to the hospital that was only four minutes away, as opposed to the one I had gone to the night before, which was 15 minutes away. My OB/GYN was at the first hospital, but I felt more at ease taking an Uber to the other hospital — it was so much closer and had more resources in case something happened.

When we got out of the car, one of the security guards asked if I was having a baby. Another security guard chimed in, “We don’t really know if she’s in labor though. We have to make sure.” Seeing me in pain, the first guy said, “Let’s go. She’s having a baby,” and helped me into a wheelchair. We sped into the hospital, leaving Khiam to unload the car seat, stroller, and all the bags from the Uber.

On getting assessed at the hospital

I was placed in a room and the nurse attached a belt around my belly to monitor my contractions. They clearly saw that I was in a lot of pain. We were waiting quite a bit. Finally, the nurse said, “We’re not getting any contractions on the belt.” I was like, “Well, I’m feeling them 100 percent. Plus, last night at the other hospital, they were able to pick up my contractions, and I feel them worse now.” I thought this machine had to be wrong. The nurse said maybe the problem was that I was moving, and told me to stay still while she tried again. I tried not to move, but every time I had a contraction, my body wanted to jerk in pain. After what seemed like 20 minutes, she repeated that she wasn’t seeing anything. Then the doctor said, “You may have had a really small type of contraction that we’re just not picking up.” But they felt very big to me. Then she added, “I feel you’re having contractions. I don’t think they aren’t real. They just aren’t strong enough to pick up and you are just feeling these small contractions more intensely than you should.” Basically, it felt as if they were saying: This is your first child and you’re overdramatizing the pain you’re feeling. I was so confused. After all, the contractions had been picked up at 2 a.m. Then the doctor checked my cervix for dilation, and said that I was only a little over one centimeter dilated — not enough to be admitted. “You’ve got a long way to go,” she told me. “Whatever you’re feeling right now is going to get a lot worse.”

I kept thinking: Why does everyone keep saying this? Am I supposed to feel like I’m dying? We had been so excited when we first got there — I had already posted to Facebook that the baby was coming. Now, I just felt embarrassed and ashamed that I was being this dramatic little girl. Khiam looked so disappointed but also confused. He asked the doctor, “How are we supposed to know when to come in? She’s bleeding. She’s having two-minute contractions. That’s when her OB/GYN told us it was the right time to come to the hospital.” “When her water breaks,” the doctor replied.

On getting discharged a second time

As the nurse was getting my discharge papers ready, I went to the bathroom. I had a weird feeling and an urge to push. That’s when my mucus plug came out. When the nurse returned, I told her what happened. She said that it was normal and probably happening because they just did the cervix check. I told her that I kept feeling the need to push. She dismissed it, explaining that it was just pressure and normal. It felt like she was rushing us out of the room so it could be cleaned.

In my head, being discharged didn’t feel right. I wished my doula, Symone, was there. She was supposed to be my safe person — my advocate if the doctors weren’t listening to me. Symone was on her way, but the trip was taking her a long time since she was celebrating Christmas with family out of town. I had Khiam there, but he didn’t have the experience or the knowledge of how to deal with a situation like this.

We left the hospital, and no one offered to wheel me out. It was obvious that I was in a lot of pain as I was wobbling toward the door. Everyone gathered at the front desk in the labor and delivery unit asked, “Where are you going? You had just gotten here.” I don’t even remember if I replied. As we stepped outside, Khiam told me how embarrassed he was. It felt like they had been gossiping about us. “Don’t be. Something’s wrong. I’m not a liar,” I said. He said, “I don’t think you’re a liar. I’m just confused. What’s going on?” That’s when I told him, “Listen to me, I know my damn body. I’m mad as heck at these people. This is wrong.”

On arriving home and calling her doula

In the Uber on the way home, I was feeling the pain and had the urge to push even more. I was squeezing Khiam for the whole four-minute ride, with my legs open, feeling like I had to lean back and push during the contractions, and I wasn’t sure why.

We walked into my mom’s house, and I called Symone immediately. I explained how upset I was, told her about the mucus plug, the pain, and how I couldn’t stop pushing. “Just try not to push when you’re going through your contraction,” she instructed me. By then, there was hardly a break between contractions. I was squatting, bending, trying my hardest not to push while Symone was on the phone trying to calm me down. It really felt like there was something wrong at this point — like the baby was starting to come out the wrong hole. I was freaking out, Googling “Can baby come out the wrong hole?” And Khiam’s like, “Babe, he’s not coming out of your rectum.”

On going to the bathroom to calm down

Symone was coaching me to breathe and relax. She suggested I go to the bathroom and look down there to make sure everything was okay, to help calm my nerves. At that point my mom showed up and asked what’s going on and why we were back. I sat on the toilet and Khiam was like, “There’s so much blood.” I looked down and there was a bubble forming on my vagina. Symone, on speaker, explained that was the water sack that was going to break. In my mind, I was thinking, Good, that means I’ll be able to go to the hospital. All l have to do is push the sack out and my water will break. 

On pushing from the toilet

Both Khiam and Symone were telling me not to push but it was background noise. I was like, Forget this. I don’t care. My body is telling me to push. I’ve got to freaking push. So I kind of sat up off the toilet, lifting my body with my hands, and pushed. I told them to call 911. Then I start hollering, “Baby’s coming! He’s coming!” To me, it felt like poop was coming out. I just kept pushing. All of this has gone down in less than five minutes since we returned home.

Khiam saw all the blood pouring out of me and turned away. Then he turned back, looking at me lost and scared. He said, “What’s going on? We just left the hospital. Why is this happening?” Symone told us she was on her way to the hospital and hung up. I screamed at Khiam to call 911. He told the operator that his girlfriend was in labor. I watched his eyes as he looked down. At first he thought he saw the sack bulging out. But once he saw the hair, there was no denying it: He was seeing the head.

On getting coached through labor by a 911 operator

Khaim screamed over the phone’s speaker, “Oh my God, he’s coming! He’s coming! What do I do? What do I do?” The operator told him to lay me on my back, so he maneuvered me off the toilet and onto the floor. The bathroom was so tiny, it felt like my head was sticking out of the doorway.

The operator told him, “Wrap him up in something when he comes out. Don’t let him fall out.” Khiam grabbed a towel and my mom started screaming at the top of her lungs. Khiam later told me that hearing my mom scream actually calmed him down. And then Khiam went into what he calls “got-to-do-this-shit mode.” The baby was in the process of coming out, and Khiam was ready to catch him with a towel. In a total of two pushes, our baby, Luca, arrived. As Khiam finished wrapping him up and laid him in my arms, I heard the ambulance outside.

On the first few minutes after delivery

Through the speaker phone, we heard the operator saying congratulations and telling Khiam what a great job he had done. It was surreal. Neither of us could really appreciate the moment. It was so much.

Then the EMTs arrived. One of them seemed like maybe she was having a bad day, but the other one was very supportive, helping to ground me because I was out of it. She was saying, “Hey mama, you did good. Oh my gosh, a Christmas baby. I’m so proud of you.” They clamped the baby’s umbilical cord and let Khiam cut the cord. Then the EMTs took the baby to check him out.

I realized then that I was practically naked in a pool of blood on the floor. Feeling overexposed, I got up, cleaned myself off a little, and got dressed. I suddenly didn’t feel like sitting around. The EMTs asked if I wanted to be carried out. At first, I said yes. But then after waiting two minutes, I decided to walk downstairs myself. They were like, “Whoa, you just gave birth and you’re walking down the flight of stairs?”  I think it was all the adrenaline.

On going to the hospital a third time

When we came into the labor and delivery unit of the hospital — the one where I had been discharged ten minutes earlier — everyone at the front desk was saying, “Oh shoot, it’s been like ten minutes … This is impossible … You were only dilated one centimeter … This is crazy.” And I was just sitting in the wheelchair, holding my baby with a little smirk on my face.

The doctor who had discharged me came to check on me and apologized and said she had no clue what happened. I’m not going to lie, she hadn’t seemed like she was having a good day to begin with. But now, she seemed guilty — like she felt bad that she had made a mistake. As she was stitching me up, she said, “This usually never happens. It wasn’t supposed to happen.” I just said, “Yeah, I don’t know what happened either.” She said, “Well, I’m sorry.” Meanwhile, the same nurse from earlier said, “Don’t go and tell your friends about this.”

All I could think was: They’re all laughing and saying “I’m sorry” and “blah, blah, blah.” But this is real. This could have gone wrong. What if Luca’s cord was wrapped around his neck? And Khiam. He did a really good job delivering the baby. But what if …?

Childbirth was one of my biggest fears because there can be so many complications. I remember thinking, I just don’t want to die during childbirth. It sounds extreme, but that’s how bad my anxiety was. Why couldn’t they have listened or rechecked my cervix maybe every hour? It’s not like that section of the hospital was busy that day. Everyone had been huddled at the front desk while we were there. Instead, I got: “You’re just imagining it. It’s going to get worse.” We were lucky everything turned out fine.

Once we got settled into a hospital room with my son, I still felt out of it and fluctuated between being pissed and happy. It had all happened too fast and there had been little time to adjust. One minute, I was feeling like I wasn’t having a baby and I was being too dramatic and wasting everyone’s time. And the next thing you know, I had a baby and all of my feelings had been right.

Everyone was asking me about it in the hospital. Whenever I was awake, a different nurse would pop in to ask me, “So tell me your story. I’ve been hearing about it.” I guess I was the talk of the hospital. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a unique story to tell Luca, the Christmas baby, when he gets older. But I wish I had had support outside of Khiam — or at the very least, the comfort of delivering on a bed. You hear things about health-care neglect on the internet. But experiencing it and feeling judged in that way by health-care professionals felt demeaning.

On her life today

Now I’m a mom. I was still processing that for a while. Compared to all we went through in my pregnancy, motherhood has been a breeze so far. The healing process for me went fairly well. I had a little bit of the blues afterward, feeling sad because the pregnancy and birth weren’t the way I wanted them. Everything unexpected and that could have gone wrong kind of did. There wasn’t a shower or maternity photos. We never got that sweet family moment in the hospital of “look at our newborn son.” That moment was taken from us.

But Luca is a really good baby. He’s not super fussy and only cries when he’s hungry or needs to be changed. I also just moved into a new apartment. We’re still living paycheck to paycheck, but we’re making it and we have support. My church has been amazing. After this experience, my faith grew a lot stronger. In the end, Luca was the best — and only — gift I got for Christmas.

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